pathogen single

How to survive vet school: and I will memorize 500 pathogens then I will memorize 500 more

I hope you sang the title to the tune of “I would walk 500 miles” because that’s what I intended you to do. Also, sorry if it’s stuck in your head now. My bad. 

Anyway… Picture this, you find yourself in lecture and the professor is rattling off the 1000′s of pathogens you need to know and all the little itty bitty details you need to know about them. Now what? Do I get the cue cards and try to cram them all in for the upcoming test or what? 

As usual it depends on how you learn, but you should try to avoid cramming when you can (though not always possible). 

I despise making and using cue cards so here are some tips I have for those courses that often require such tactics.

  • Organize pathogens into groups (e.g. DNA viruses, gram +/- bacteria, flies vs protists vs nematodes 
  • Start from the bottom – learn the common and general things (or rules) about the groups you’ve made (i.e nematode lifecycles, size of the viral family etc.) and know what falls in the group (e.g. herpesviridae is a large DNA virus family; staphylococcus is a gram + bacteria etc.)  
  • Make sub-groups (e.g. intracellular gram+ bacteria vs extracellular gram + bacteria; herpes virus family vs parvoviridae family) – then again learn the common/general/rules of these sub groups. 
  • Continue to make more and more sub groups (w/in subgroups) — learn the rules/common/general things about the subgroups. 
  • Learn which pathogens fall in specific sub groups and once you have that down 
  • Now you’re here – Learn the important specifics or differences for individual pathogens 
  • Do it again different ways e.g.sort pathogens based on species they effect –> body system they effect –> specific location in the body they effect 
  • Once you’ve learnt your groups, build a chart and try to fill it our from memory
  • Write down lists of important categories (e.g. reportable diseases, zoonotic disease) and learn them!  

Repetition is key in learning, but what I find is most helpful when faced with learning 10000 pathogens at a time is really to break it down into groups and focus on learning commonalities rather than the nitty gritty details of every single pathogen. 

To me it’s a lot more helpful to know that intracellular pathogens generally produce chronic granulomatous lesions, with a cellular immune response, that are difficult to vaccinate and to treat with antibiotics (there are of course exceptions to every rule). Then go through my mental rolodex of bacteria I know are intracellular to come up with possible ddx’s. Then it is for me to memorize every single thing about every single intracellular pathogen. 

Disclaimer: these are just tips/tricks that I found helpful to do for subjects like this. This method won’t work for everyone but I just wanted to share some of the things that worked for me!